Four Imperatives to Make the Digital Promise Come True in Customer Service

Do you remember the new hot topic in the world of customer experience 10 years ago?

It was self-service.

Leading up to 2010, the concept was still a new-ish thing. For the first time ever, customers were being given the choice to do a wide variety of things by themselves that previously would have required an interaction with a live service rep. More and more companies were investing in their first self-service websites, mobile apps, and in-person kiosks.

It's easy to forget that when the idea of self-service was still new, many companies wondered if they could get away with it. Would people tolerate having to serve themselves?

But by 2010, that was no longer a concern. In retrospect, it seems hysterical that it ever was. Not only are customers OK with the idea of self-service, but many prefer it. People did not just accept it, they came to expect it.

Which is why at that time, most of the progressive talk among customer service leaders was about a "light-bulb moment" everyone seemed to be having.

It seemed plausible back in 2010 that center agents in the future could sleep in their cubicles because there were almost no more phone calls coming to customer service.

Well…what happened? Not that.

Most companies have added a whole menu of options for customers whenever they have problems or issues: Text us. Email us. Visit our website. Download our app. Reach out to us on Twitter. And although customers are using all of these channels, every day, by the millions, then why, as we head into 2020, are companies STILL getting so many live phone calls?

Benchmarking data show at least some decrease in overall live phone volume industrywide during the past few years, but the majority of companies say it's dropping like a feather, not like a rock.

The digital promise, so far, feels more like a lie.

This is the implicit promise that if you add more self-service options and more channels for customers to contact you, you will achieve the ultimate win-win: Significantly lower cost-to-serve and a better overall customer experience.

However, this just simply has not turned out to be true at most companies, yet. Live call volume is still way too high and live service costs too much. In many ways, the added complexity of having to choose from among so many options has added extra effort to the whole issue resolution process for customers. And as we've known for some time, higher customer effort equals lower future customer loyalty.

Based on the latest Gartner research, there are four imperatives that separate companies whose digital self-service strategies are paying off from those that are still waiting for the promise to come true. They are the following:

  1. Establish a self-service strategy that prioritizes resolution, not channel choice. Customer choice is overrated. Customers truly prefer the fastest, easiest pathway to getting their issues resolved. Most don't really care how. Companies should guide customers to the lowest-effort channel for their specific issue, not a wide-open menu of choices that ends up feeling confusing or overwhelming.
  2. Manage self-service capabilities like a product, not an IT project. The most progressive companies now assign ownership of specific channels to individual managers who operate their channel for optimal efficiency, making it easier for customers to resolve issues or quickly steering them elsewhere if that channel is not a match for their issues.
  3. Prevent self-service abandonment through confidence-building design. Gartner research shows that the leading cause of unnecessary live contacts is customer lack of confidence. Companies should double-check the language and graphics on their self-service offerings, especially confirmation screens. If customers are fully confident their issue has been resolved in self-service, they probably won't also call. But that confidence is easily shaken if language is confusing or written in company jargon.
  4. Evolve talent management practices for a self-service dominant strategy. Over time, call volume will drop even more. And the remaining live contacts your company gets will be disproportionately more important. Therefore, service leaders should manage live talent as a precious resource, skewing focus to the retention of top talent and training them to take control of customer interactions.

Think through the implications of these four imperatives. Undoubtedly there are a few mid-course corrections you can make in your overall service strategy that could have a big impact on making the digital promise finally come true for customers.

Richard DeLisi is vice president of advisory and a fellow at Gartner and co-author of "The Effortless Experience."